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Bracketology 2021: Thursday night delivered the bubble drama

You will be hard-pressed to find an hour that will have more of an impact on the 2021 NCAA Tournament field than last night’s 10 p.m. Eastern one.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan State
Michigan State’s win over Ohio State on Thursday affected both the top line and the cut line pictures in today’s bid outlook.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Before I get into today’s seed list, let’s recap how the NCAA Tournament will work in 2021. As usual, there will be 68 teams in the field, but with the Ivy League sitting this season out, only 31 automatic bids are up for grabs, not 32. As a result, the number of at-large bids stands at 37.

Of the 31 automatic bids, it looks like nine of those will go to the champions of multiple-bid conferences. Add those to our 37 at-larges and that means 46 places are available, though that number might fluctuate a bit because of the Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley, and Mountain West, all of which could send one ... or more than one team ... to Indiana.

Teams are listed in seed list order with the numbers in parentheses reflecting the following information as of the morning of Friday, February 26, 2021, pulled from WarrenNolan.com’s selection sheets:

  • NET ranking
  • Overall record against Division I competition only
  • Record in Quadrant 1 and 2 games
  • Record in Quadrant 1 games only

Locks and protected seeds (16)

No. 1s: 1. Gonzaga* (1/23-0/12-0/7-0), 2. Baylor* (2/18-0/7-0/6-0), 3. Michigan* (3/17-1/11-1/7-1), 4. Ohio State (7/18-6/11-6/9-5)
No. 2s: 5. Illinois (5/17-6/11-6/7-5), 6. Villanova* (8/15-3/6-3/2-1), 7. Alabama* (9/18-6/12-5/6-4), 8. Iowa (6/17-7/11-7/6-6)
No. 3s: 9. Houston (4/18-3/6-2/2-1), 10. West Virginia (13/16-6/11-6/6-6), 11. Florida State (11/14-3/8-2/3-2), 12. Creighton (20/17-5/10-2/3-1)
No. 4s: 13. Kansas (17/16-8/8-8/5-8), 14. Virginia (14/15-6/8-4/3-4), 15. Oklahoma (28/14-6/6-5/5-5), 16. Arkansas (22/18-5/9-5/4-4)

I was tempted to both move Michigan past Baylor and swap Ohio State and Illinois following Thursday’s impressive Wolverine home win over Iowa, the Buckeyes’ close loss at Michigan State, and the Illini’s home victory over Nebraska. But with the Bears still undefeated, keeping in mind that a bad Iowa State team gave them a scare in their first game back from a long CoVID pause, and the Buckeyes owning two more Quad 1 wins than the Illini (plus Ayo Dosunmu’s broken nose), the top five remain the same for now.

I’m starting to come around to the idea that Michigan eventually passes Baylor, however.

On the No. 2 line, Villanova and Alabama swap places, thanks to the Crimson Tide’s loss at Arkansas, a result that put the Razorbacks on the No. 4 line today. Iowa remains a two despite last night’s loss in Ann Arbor. Houston’s impressive home win over Western Kentucky on Thursday night keeps the Cougars at the top of the No. 3 line, though Creighton replaces Virginia, thanks to the Cavaliers’ three-game losing streak.

Despite losing to Texas (after OT) on Tuesday night, Kansas remains ahead of the Longhorns because of its record in Quad 1 and 2 games. Oklahoma slipped down to the No. 4 line; however, thanks to its bad loss at Kansas State.

Top four seeds by region

Region 1: 1/1. Gonzaga*, 2/8. Iowa, 3/10. West Virginia, 4/16. Arkansas — Total of Top 4 Seeds = 35

Region 4: 1/4. Ohio State, 2/6. Villanova*, 3/11. Florida State*, 4/13. Kansas — Total of Top 4 Seeds = 34

Region 2: 1/2. Baylor*, 2/5. Illinois, 3/12. Creighton, 4/14. Virginia — Total of Top 4 Seeds = 33

Region 3: 1/3. Michigan*, 2/7. Alabama*, 3/9. Houston*, 4/15. Oklahoma — Total of Top 4 Seeds = 34

Of all the four one seeds, I think Gonzaga has the most difficult draw here, thanks to the potential rematch with Iowa in the regional final, and potential matchups with a tough WVU team in the Elite Eight and a red hot Arkansas team in the Sweet 16.

Other locks (16)

No. 5s: 17. Texas (24/14-6/7-5/4-6), 18. Purdue (26/15-8/10-7/4-7) 19. Wisconsin (18/16-8/9-8/4-6), 20. USC (23/19-5/7-3/3-3)
No. 6s: 21. Tennessee (1516-6/6-6/5-4), 22. Texas Tech (19/14-8/5-8/4-7), 23. Clemson (32/14-5/9-5/3-5), 24. Oklahoma State (37/15-6/7-5/6-4)
No. 7s: 25. Missouri (47/14-7/8-7/6-3), 26. Colorado (16/18-7/7-4/3-4), 27. Virginia Tech (51/14-5/7-5/3-2), 28. Florida (27/12-6/7-5/3-3)
No. 8s: 29. Rutgers (30/13-9/9-9/4-8), 30. UCLA* (38/17-5/5-5/2-3), 31. LSU (29/14-7/4-6/3-6), 32. BYU (25/17-5/7-5/3-3)

With just two weeks and two days left until Selection Sunday, the number of locks soared this week, with every team on the top eight seed lines sure to end up in the announced field of 68. Seeding might just be a worry for teams like Missouri, Virginia Tech, and LSU, however.

Of the 46 places up for grabs, 32 are now accounted for, leaving 14 for the bubble.

Nearing safety (7)

No. 9s: 33. Oregon (46/15-5/7-3/3-3), 34. San Diego State* (21/17-4/5-4/0-3), 35. Maryland (31/13-10/6-10/5-10), 36. Loyola Chicago* (10/17-4/5-4/1-2)
No. 10s: 37. Boise State (36/17-5/4-5/2-3), 38. St. Bonaventure* (35/12-3/4-3/1-2), 39. UConn (43/11-6/5-5/2-3)

While I already mentioned Michigan State’s home victory over Ohio State, I’ve reached the point in this analysis where I must mention two of the other thrillers that played out in Thursday’s mid-evening window (East Coast bias). Oregon defeated Oscar da Silva-less Stanford, 71-68, at Maples Pavilion to hand the Cardinal a second straight defeat—one that knocked the Cardinal out of the field. However, after Monday’s 14-point road loss at USC, the Ducks needed that one.

In the Mountain West, meanwhile, Boise State scored 17 in the first half at San Diego State, meaning the Broncos looked headed to a sure defeat. But Derrick Alston (29 points) dragged them back, and thanks to a late three that might have been a two, BSU forced OT. Then the Aztecs took control again, outscoring Boise State by a 15-3 margin to claim the first of the pair’s weekend games. They’ll meet again on Saturday (4 p.m., CBSSN) with the Broncos needing to earn a split to maintain their bubble breathing room heading into the final week of the regular season.

Speaking of breathing room, Maryland has earned a bit after four straight wins. The Terps host Michigan State Sunday (2 p.m., CBS), a contest that’s now full of March implications.

The cut line

No. 10s (Last Four Byes): 40. Seton Hall (53/13-10/5-9/3-6)
No. 11s (Last Four Byes): 41. VCU (33/17-5/8-3/0-3), 42. North Carolina (44/14-8/7-7/1-6), 43. Duke (49/11-8/6-7/2-3)
No. 11/12s (Last Four In): 44. Michigan State (68/13-9/7-9/5-8), 45. Louisville (48/12-5/7-4/0-4), 46. Xavier (58/12-5/4-5/1-1), 47. Georgia Tech (40/12-8/6-6/2-6)

Seton Hall (at Butler), North Carolina (against Marquette in a last-minute addition to the schedule), and Xavier (at Providence) did themselves no favors in the midweek window. On the other hand, VCU (home winner over Saint Louis without Bones Hyland), Michigan State, and Georgia Tech (69-53 winner at Virginia Tech) all did themselves proud, with the Spartans’ and Yellow Jackets’ victories pushing them into the field as of now.

Louisville was able to take care of Notre Dame at home, but the Cardinals still lack a Quad 1 one. They’ll have three chances in the next week, starting at Duke on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN).

First Four OUT: 69. Drake (34/21-2/5-1/1-1), 70. Richmond (52/12-5/5-3/2-2), 71. Stanford (60/14-10/5-10/4-5), 72. Colorado State (45/13-4/3-4/2-3)
Next Four OUT: 73. Indiana (54/12-11/8-10/2-9), 74. Minnesota (65/13-11/6-10/4-9), 75. Utah State (55/13-7/3-5/2-4), 76. Ole Miss (59/13-9/6-7/2-4)

Stanford’s home loss to Oregon pushed the Cardinal out, while Georgia Tech’s move into the field was bad news for Drake. Richmond has an opportunity tonight at Saint Louis (7 p.m., ESPN2), though the Spiders will need some help to earn an at-large even with a win tonight.

Indiana, the loser of three of its last four, and Minnesota, which is both without Gabe Kalscheur and on a four-game skid, are now both in the Next Four Out group.

Note that the teams in the First Four Out group on Selection Sunday, the NIT No. 1 seeds, will serve as contingency teams for the NCAAs based on plans released Thursday.

Also Considered: 77. Saint Louis (50/11-/2-3/1-2), 78. Syracuse (56/13-7/3-6/0-5), 79. SMU (57/11-4/4-3/0-3), 80. Memphis (61/13-6/3-5/0-2), 81. Western Kentucky (75/15-4/4-2/2-2), 82. St. John’s (76/14-10/5-8/2-6), 83. Georgia (83/13-9/6-7/2-6), 84. Saint Mary’s (66/13-7/3-6/0-4)

With WKU’s loss to Houston on Thursday night, every team in this group looks likely to rely on an automatic bid to go dancing. It’s the same story for the group below. Belmont’s hopes of finishing with a perfect OVC record ended last night at Eastern Kentucky. The Bruins lost by an 81-67 score, though star center Nick Muszynski was out with an injury.

(Mostly) One-bid conference reps

No. 12s (Auto Bid): 48. Wichita State* (67/11-4/4-4/2-2), 49. Belmont*. 50. UC Santa Barbara*
No. 13s: 51. Winthrop*, 52. Toledo*, 53. North Texas*, 54. Furman*
No. 14s: 55. Abilene Christian*, 56. Liberty*, 57. Colgate*, 58. Eastern Washington*
No. 15s: 59. James Madison*, 60. UMBC*, 61. Texas State*, 62. Wagner*
No. 16s (First Round): 63. Monmouth*, 64. Prairie View A&M*
No. 16s (First Four): 65. South Dakota*, 66. Cleveland State*, 67. UT Rio Grande Valley*, 68. North Carolina A&T*

Be sure to check out Friday’s full bracket.